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Stòras - A Real Treasure
by William Ramoutar
To say Mary Jane Lamond is a treasure is a fact and as the title of her new CD, “Stòras,” means treasure in Scots Gaelic, what else can I say? Except that she is a treasure - in fact, an exceptional treasure.
Her voice is full, refreshing and thoroughly modern yet deep in the heart traditional. Make sense? No, probably not. But not a word of a lie, nonetheless.
I had heard her music on a couple of CD’s and as a reciprocation to her friend from Cape Breton, Ashley MacIsaac, she appeared on his CD. But when I saw her in person, as a supporting act for The Chieftains some years ago, I ... well, ...I had a moment. One of those where you say to yourself, "oh this is a special one, she is going places". And she has not disappointed any of her following as far as I know, thus far.
This newest CD of hers shows the strength of her commitment to the tradition of Gaelic song. As true to it, as any you can think of and yet, it is so vital in its modernity. She sings these songs like they were written for her and yet, some are as old as the hills. When I saw her appear on the stage with The Chieftains (yes, appear - as she was not billed because she was taking the place of another act who had been let go from the tour), it was an appearance of angelic quality. One minute she was announced, she sang several songs, then was gone. The crowd that night knew they had witnessed an extraordinary happening. This tiny sprite of a girl sang like she had the wealth of our culture and traditions in every nuance, note and breath of her existence. Heady stuff, Ladies and Gents! But sometimes you have to go with the flow or it just washes over you. These days there is always someone listening for the twitter of their cell phone or blackberry, apple phone, whatever. Well, they just give me the pip! But the ones who listen to the concerts and artists are rewarded with an experience beyond mere words and sounds.
Artists like Mary Jane are not everywhere, nor two a penny. They are to be recognized for what they are. True carriers of the torch. Musicians or singers, who will be around long after we have all trundled off into oblivion. Think of the ones who went before. The Willie Clancy's, the Seamus Ennis's, the Margaret Barry's well, you get the drift. These are icons in "the music" we all revere. Maybe sometimes some of them are respected just because they are gone. I have to admit there are some I have had to wonder about. But there is no wondering about this little lady’s talent.
Mouth music, lilting, dandling, puirt a beul, port a beal, all ways the tunes are handed down to us through the years, and this CD has the distinction of having brilliant liner notes and beautifully sung lyrics. There are poignant songs of loss, definitely love, and even catchy tunes you won't understand a darn word of, but as they are so infectious in their rhythms and melodies, you'll find yourself humming! The "waulking" song last on this offering is the also one of the purest forms of passing down "the music." It is a call and answer method of relieving the tedium of breaking in the tweed. When woven first it is very coarse, so, to soften it up, it is soaked in ........ oh for Gawd's sake, if I tell you this, you'll probably think I've left the planet, yet, it was soaked in hot urine, or ammonia, to kill the impurities in the wool!! Then it was "waulked" around the table, always to the left. It is considered bad luck to move the material to the right, or in fact to sing the same tune during a session. As it is pounded on the table by the women, sitting around it, a caller sings the first verse or line and the rest of the women, while moving the cloth, sing the answer or nonsensical line while kneading the long bale of wool, which also tightens up the fibers as well as softening it.
The caller, if she is getting on in age, is always given a place of recognition at the head of the table and is excused from “waulking” the cloth. The tunes can be quite lively as you might imagine, as some strong handed lassies belting the living daylights out of their handiwork while singing about sometimes a straying member of their menfolk or at least the memory of one. When you listen to one of these songs they are irresistible in their delivery. Mary Jane's last tune is no exception.
Posterity is a word I am not very fond of. It sounds somewhat ancient and dusty.
Mark my words, though - she will be around for posterity. She is worth every cent you spend on her music and then some. This is her fifth album. The joy of it is, she is the treasure and we get to enjoy her music, which she gives to us, forever.
A stòras mo chroí.
Storas is available here: Storas
BIO William Ramoutar
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Review written by William Ramoutar Presenter of Irish Ways Radio Programme, St Augustine Florida
Main Photo: Mary Jane's official web site
Image of women "walking the tweed" taken from a video on U-tube To hear a wailking song and what it's about, please click Walking the Tweed
CD of waulking songs is available on Amazon
Fri, Nov 3, 2017
The Round Towers
The Round Towers of Ireland are remarkable among the world's ancient monuments; one author has called them 'Elegant, free-standing pencils of stone.' Today, 65 survive in part or whole. Hand-crafted in native stone and cemented with a sand, lime, horsehair and oxblood mortar - a technique imported from Roman Britain - it's said by many historians that they were built by monastic communities to thwart Viking invaders. And yet, there's reason to believe that the towers were built long before Christianity came to Ireland. Whatever their origins, monasteries did indeed flourish where the round towers existed. And why not. These imposing edifices provided a watch tower, a keep and a refuge.
Image: By kind permission of Stephen Cassidy, The Cassidy Clan.
Click for More Culture Corner.
Derek Bell recorded Carolan's Receipt in 1975, the same year he joined the Chieftains. The selections include "Sídh Beag agus Sídh Mór," the first melody O'Carolan composed, as well "Carolan's Farewell to Music," which was his last. There have been dozens of settings of O'Carolan's compositions released since these, but none have surpassed the beauty of Bell's.
See our Article on O'Carolan
Click here for Carolan's Receipt.